Early Learning Council’s New Guidelines for Community Engagement

The value of PTA can be measured in a wide variety of ways, but one of the most strategic is representation of the parent community at the state level through participation in meaningful relationships. One such relationship is with the Illinois Early Learning Council. Created by Public Act 93-380, the Council is a public-private partnership designed to strengthen, coordinate, and expand programs and services for children, birth to five, throughout Illinois. The Council builds on current programs to ensure a comprehensive, statewide early learning system (preschool, child care, Head Start, health care, and support programs for parents) to improve the lives of Illinois children and families.

The mission of the Council is to collaborate with child-serving systems and families to meet the needs of young children, prioritizing those with the highest need, through comprehensive early learning services for children and families prenatally to age five. The Illinois PTA continues to be part of the Early Learning Council, and a representative serves on the Principles and Practices subcommittee. Ongoing dialogue about the need for age-appropriate learning experiences has prompted the development of the Guidelines for Community Engagement (included in the ZIP file).

We believe these guidelines can assist parents of young children, as well as PTA leaders, in creating a dialogue with teachers and administrators centered on the Illinois Early Learning Standards, as well as with the community at large with regard to the value of high quality early learning programs. In addition, PTA Councils in districts with an early learning program may wish to meet with their district about forming an early learning PTA to serve as a resource for family communication and education.

Essence of ESSA: School Climate and Culture

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member. The coalition helps families and communities understand how our education system is changing to provide the children of Illinois the best education possible. The article looks at the difference and importance of school climate and culture under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), something Illinois will be using in its school accountability measure and has reported on the Illinois school report card through the 5Essentials survey. Look for additional information on this topic from Illinois PTA and Real Learning for Real Life throughout the month on social media.

Happy New Year! We are excited to kick off 2018 by continuing our dive into the many important parts of Illinois’s new plan that evaluates the quality of schools, reports on their progress, and supports them if needed—it’s the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ​

​Last month, we learned the difference between growth and proficiency and why both are important when we evaluate, support, and report on students, schools, and districts.

​This month, we will be taking a more in-depth look at school climate and culture. School climate and culture can often times feel difficult to define, but more and more studies show that when schools have a strong climate and culture, students are more likely to succeed.

A strong climate and culture at school will help students:

  • perform better academically
  • feel safer
  • build healthier relationships
  • show up to school more often

This is why school climate and culture is included in ESSA and why it’s so important that we understand how to create a strong, healthy, and positive climate and culture.​

​Making It Simple!​

One easy way to understand school climate and culture is to think about school culture as the thermostat and school climate as the thermometer. School culture is made up of the norms, beliefs, and practices that can set the tone for a school community, much like a thermostat sets a temperature. School climate is how it feels to be in that school and reflects the culture, much like a thermometer tells you how a room actually feels. For more real-life examples on school climate and culture visit our Real Learning for Real Life website at reallearningil.org/essa-glossary.

NASA’s Kids’ Club

STEM education—focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math—has received a lot of attention in recent years. Part of the reason for that is STEM jobs are experiencing significant growth and are expected to continue to do so, but the number of STEM workers our education system is producing is not keeping up with that growth, especially among women and minorities.

To help get young students excited about STEM fields, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had created NASA Kids’ Club, a collection on online games and activities that provide a safe place for children to play and explore as they learn about NASA and its missions.

NASA and the exploration of space are naturals for engaging children in STEM. Indeed, many current scientists and engineers attribute their interest in their fields to the inspiration provided by the Apollo moon missions.

The games and activities included at NASA’s Kids’ Club align with the Illinois Learning Standards for Science, which are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. The parent information page for NASA’s Kids’ Club shares which activities align with which grades and standards. And while the activities align with Kindergarten through fourth grade standards, any pre-K or elementary aged student can enjoy the activities.

Essence of ESSA: Growth versus Proficiency

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member. The coalition helps families and communities understand how our education system is changing to provide the children of Illinois the best education possible. The article details how schools in Illinois are changing instruction as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts the focus on student achievement from proficiency to growth. The coalition has also created a short 99-second video about the difference between growth and proficiency.

Academic Progress at Zion School Shows Promise of New System

Third and 4th graders at Beulah Park Elementary School in Zion are gaining crucial skills as they make inferences while reading books as varied as Junie B. Jones and a biography of 19th century scientist Mary Anning. Now that progress will be recognized in the way Illinois evaluates its schools.

Illinois’ plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, provides a system for rating Illinois schools and for providing struggling schools with additional help. Illinois’ ESSA plan, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, emphasizes academic growth in rating schools. Parents use the ratings to better understand their child’s school—or where to send their child to school—and the state uses the ratings to determine which schools will get additional assistance. The test scores of 4th graders improved by 17.5% last year, one of the largest improvements of any school in Illinois.

“It’s about closing the academic achievement gap, and growth really matters for that,” said Dr. Keely Roberts, Superintendent for Zion School District 6.

Lynn Butera (left), principal of Beulah Park Elementary School and Dr. Keely Roberts (right), Superintendent of Zion Elementary School District

No Child Left Behind emphasized academic proficiency, test scores from a single moment in time, rather than academic growth. Proficiency often correlates with a student’s race, income level or disability status and doesn’t provide a sense of a school’s academic progress. Schools have more control over academic growth. The vast majority of students at Beulah Park are minority and low-income, and 22% of students meet or exceed PARCC standards in 4th grade English language arts. ESSA will still take into account proficiency, which is particularly critical in the upper grades as it relates to college admission.

“We care about kids surviving in the world and getting into schools like U of I,” Roberts said. “The bar shouldn’t be lower for proficiency because that’s limiting to our children.”

A recent reading exercise in Valencia Samuel’s 4th grade class compared the biography of a 19th century scientist, Mary Anning, a famous fossil collector, with a modern story about saving porpoises. The concept of compare and contrast was reinforced in the classroom and in smaller sessions with individual students. Understanding the progress students are making helps the school make informed decisions about staffing individualized support sessions and the allocation of time during the school day.

“We look at every child and set goals,” said Lynn Butera, Principal at Beulah Park for the past 15 years. “We’re using data from our [assessment] scores and mastering skills and continuously growing to be more proficient.”

ESSA will provide a more nuanced picture of Illinois’ education system, funding for initiatives such as professional development of teachers and an updated plan for supporting schools. Its true promise is in the end goal of lifting achievement and helping prepare all students for college, career and a healthy life.

“Growth is what it’s all about,” said Julie Dobnikar, a 3rd grade teacher at Beulah Park for 16 years. “It’s about knowing when I have made a difference.”

The mission of the Real Learning for Real Life coalition is to close achievement gaps and prepare the whole student for college, career, and life after high school. In order to achieve this mission, we are working toward improving understanding of ESSA. Click here to receive email updates from Real Learning for Real Life.